A Roadmap to Happiness

By Poonam Sharma

 

Are you truly happy? Is your life where you want it to be? Or do you find yourself endlessly searching for ways to be happier, but never quite finding anything that works for very long?

Researchers have long been exploring the conditions that lead to people being happier. You may be surprised at their findings:

Happier people tend to have:

  • High self-esteem,
  • A sense of personal control,
  • An optimistic outlook, and comfort reaching out to others
  • A satisfying marriage or good network of friends
  • Work or fun activities that they enjoy and that allow them to use their skills
  • A meaningful religious faith
  • Plenty of sleep and exercise

Happiness has little to do with:

  • Money
  • Physical attractiveness
  • Age Gender
  • Education level
  • Whether or not you have children
  • Objective health
  • Geographic location

So, if you are contemplating getting that M.B.A., so you can strike it rich, get a face lift, and move to Hawaii, please know that there is absolutely no guarantee that you will be any happier!

MONEY, LOVE AND HAPPINESS

In the U.S.A., we are immersed in a highly commercial society that gives us the very strong impression that happiness is achieved through the accumulation of money and “stuff.” We are enticed to believe that if we buy the latest name-brand outfit, stylish car, or fancy house, we’ll finally gain happiness and acceptance by others. It is easy to forget that the primary goal of corporate America is to sell goods and make money, not foster individual happiness.

Being financially well-off does not guarantee happiness. Once your basic needs are met, research shows that money has little to do with emotional well-being. Someone making $40,000 a year certainly feels better than a person who is homeless, but increasing that amount to a million dollars does not buy you much more happiness. Consider these findings:

Americans are richer than they were 40 years ago, but report no increase in happiness. Those who choose the pursuit of wealth as their primary goal tend to have lower levels of well-being. Basically, money hunger leaves you hungry in other areas of your life. The research of economist Richard Easterlin has shown that as countries grow wealthier, their people do not necessarily become happier.

Study after study has shown that the happiest people have positive social relationships. Social relationships support health, optimal cognitive functioning, and lower stress levels.

Unfortunately, our society seems to be moving in a direction of increasing separation and loneliness. A recent sociological study authored by Smith-Lovin found that 25% of people have no one to confide in at all about important matters in their lives (up from 10% in 1984). In 1984, about 80% of people reported having a confidant outside the immediate family; now that number has dropped to approximately 60%. More and more people rely primarily on their spouse and close family members to meet their emotional needs. Without intimate social ties, suffering increases substantially.

Ironically, in the current environment, it is not unusual for people to give up social connection to pursue wealth. Job mobility, separation of work and family life, and increasing demands to be productive jeopardize our social worlds and our mental health.

SUGGESTIONS FOR INCREASING HAPPINESS

Because our society does not naturally provide an environment that promotes the things that really make a person happy, it becomes necessary to work consciously on such a goal.

David Meyers (www.davidmeyers.org ), author of The Pursuit of Happiness offers these research-based suggestions for making your life happier:

“1. Realize that enduring happiness doesn't come from financial success. People adapt to changing circumstances— even to wealth or a disability. Thus wealth is like health: Its utter absence breeds misery, but having it (or any circumstance we long for) doesn't guarantee happiness.

2. Take control of your time. Happy people feel in control of their lives, often aided by mastering their use of time. It helps to set goals and break them into daily aims. Although we often overestimate how much we will accomplish in any given day (leaving us frustrated), we generally underestimate how much we can accomplish in a year, given just a little progress every day.

3. Act happy. We can sometimes act ourselves into a frame of mind. Manipulated into a smiling expression, people feel better; when they scowl, the whole world seems to scowl back. So put on a happy face. Talk as if you feel positive self-esteem, are optimistic, and are outgoing. Going through the motions can trigger the emotions.

4. Seek work and leisure that engages your skills. Happy people often are in a zone called "flow"—absorbed in a task that challenges them without overwhelming them. The most expensive forms of leisure (sitting on a yacht) often provide less flow experience than gardening, socializing, or craft work.

5. Join the "movement" movement. An avalanche of research reveals that aerobic exercise not only promotes health and energy, it also is an antidote for mild depression and anxiety. Sound minds reside in sound bodies. Off your duffs, couch potatoes.

6. Give your body the sleep it wants. Happy people live active vigorous lives yet reserve time for renewing sleep and solitude. Many people suffer from sleep debt, with resulting fatigue, diminished alertness, and gloomy moods.

7. Give priority to close relationships. Intimate friendships with those who care deeply about you can help you weather difficult times. Confiding is good for soul and body. Resolve to nurture your closest relationships: to not take those closest to you for granted, to display to them the sort of kindness that you display to others, to affirm them, to play together and share together.

8. Focus beyond self. Reach out to those in need. Happiness increases helpfulness (those who feel good do good). But doing good also makes one feel good.

9. Be grateful. People who keep a gratitude journal—who pause each day to reflect on some positive aspect of their lives (their health, friends, family, freedom, education, senses, natural surroundings, and so on.) experience heightened well-being.

10. Nurture your spiritual self. For many people, faith provides a support community, a reason to focus beyond self, and a sense of purpose and hope. Study after study finds that actively religious people are happier and that they cope better with crises.”

SUGGESTED READING

If you would like to learn more about the research on happiness, check out these excellent books on the topic:

  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel T. Gilbert, Ph.D.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness by David G. Meyers, Ph.D. A
  • uthentic Happiness by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

For Further Reading

Source: Poonam Sharma, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and life coach in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Sharma helps people improve their health, find balance in their lives, and achieve their most important personal and professional goals. Poonam Sharma, Ph.D. may be contacted at Healthful Changes
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